George Washington was born on this day in 1732. In 1926, The Nation published a three-part essay on “George Washington: The Image and the Man” (September 9–October 13, 1926), by William E. Woodward, who quit his job as a copywriter at an advertising agency to write novels and popular histories and biographies, including of Washington and Thomas Paine (whose 1737 birth was featured on The Almanac two weeks ago). At the beginning of the first installment, Woodward described the world into which Washington had been born, curiously leaving out any reference to slavery.
Nowadays men are morose with living in a world that has grown too large for them. Morose and bitter, or defiant and gay. One need not be a clairvoyant to detect a sense of foreboding beneath the exultation over what is called modern progress. We are the victims of our own inventions; we see civilization strangely shattering before the driving power that we hoped would save it. The world into which young Washington came was very different. It was by no means too large. Henry Adams, with his instinct for compact phrases, calls it a “small and cheerful world”—but both its smallness and cheerfulness were relative. People were dissatisfied, as they have always been; but then they thought they were able to lay their hands on the things that made them unhappy. Life was almost devoid of theory. If they were without poetry, they were also without hopeless dilemmas. They were a practical people, the colonial Americans. They lived under conditions that made practicality a cardinal virtue.
To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.